WAPAKONETA — When fire struck a downtown Wapakoneta landmark late Sunday evening, leaving more than 20 families homeless on Christmas Eve morning, the Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency and the Wapakoneta business community sprang into action.
By Monday morning, the victims dislodged by the fire had been taken to a local motel, with the tab picked up by a Wapakoneta restaurant.
As EMA Director Troy Anderson said, “Our county likes to help our people, and it’s nice to see that.”
A structure that has stood in downtown Wapakoneta since 1898 was heavily damaged by a fire that started late Sunday night. Police arrested Wesley M. Slaughter, 19, and charged him with aggravated arson at 2:56 a.m. Monday, according to the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office’s website.
According to a spokesman for the Wapakoneta Fire Department, firefighters were dispatched to the former Koneta Inn, 1 Perry St., a structure that housed a motel with some two dozen occupants along with a restaurant and barber shop, shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday.
Upon their arrival, crews found smoke coming from several windows of the building and flames coming from an apartment on the front of the structure, the spokesman said. Occupants of the motel were exiting upon firefighters’ arrival, and all were safe and accounted for.
Anderson said the fire kicked into action the county’s Citizen Emergency Response Team — or CERT — which was established a little over a year ago to deal with such emergencies.
“We’ve got at least 20 families we are helping, and that number is going up,” Anderson said Monday morning. “We are going through a list of residents (of the motel) making sure we’ve got everybody accounted for. One of the restaurants here in town paid to have the people put up at the Best Western motel in Wapak for up to five days. In the mean time, we’re working on getting more donations and are working with other organizations to be them some assistance.”
The organization Dream On is also raising money via Facebook at j.mp/2T6STpu.
Firemen remained on scene downtown until approximately 8 a.m. Monday before the blaze was fully extinguished.
“The roof is gone” from the three-story building, the department spokesman said.
The building is owned by S.C. Walters.
As of Monday morning, there was no dollar estimate of the damage caused by the fire.
Assisting at the scene were firefighters from Uniopolis, Botkins, Buckland, St. Marys, St. Johns, Cridersville and New Bremen.